Thoughts on ThinkBike L.A.: 4 – Process

On September 22-23 2011, Dutch bicycle facility designers came to L.A. and worked with Angelenos to create great designs. The ThinkBike event was covered at LADOT, and L.A. Streetsblog, but the coverage didn’t include too much in the way of sharing actual designs, like S.F. Streetsblog coverage of their ThinkBike did. I figured that I would do a series of three posts (1 – Downtown, 2 – Pacoima, 3 – South L.A.) showing off more of the great work. The designs are posted at LADOT, but they’re big pdfs, difficult to search, find, and share. I’ve broken them out into place-specific entries and tried to run a lot of images and text, to make this excellent work more findable. In addition, I’ve done a fourth blog post about the overall process, which I did find a bit disappointing.

THINKBIKE 4 of 4 – OVERALL PROCESS

When a Dutch bicycle experts come to L.A. and preach the bike gospel, it’s a great thing. Orange 20, LADOT, LACBC and L.A. Streetsblog loved it. I loved it. The designs are awesome, and I hope that any and all of them get built. Then why did BikeSide, L.A. Weekly, CityWatch, and The Engaged Observer express concern over folks not being included in the process? Why wasn’t this an unqualified success that brought together L.A. bicyclists and inspired us all?

I think that some of ThinkBike’s critics  focusing a bit much on fairly small detail. Caltrans’ local bike point-person Dale Benson and Rock Miller (engineer who designed many of Long Beach‘s awesome bike facilities) were sent out of the room during the design sessions. The sending off is not a good thing, but I think it’s more of symptom. In my opinion, the more fundamental issue is that ThinkBike was done in a way that has been divisive to L.A. bike communities.

You're invited to ThinkBike, but go away while we experts do actual design work for your community

As soon as I read the ThinkBike announcement, I could see it was an exclusive event. The public was invited to the opening and closing sessions only. Immediately I antcipated that this would be a contentious event that would sow divisions in the bike community.

L.A. is a big place. There are lots of great bike groups. Not everyone can be in the room at the same time… so there should have been some sort of transparent, open process by which participants were selected/invited. To this day, I still don’t know who picked whom. Was it the Dutch? the Mayor? the LADOT? the LACBC? I don’t know. 

In the late 1990s I was involved in a big L.A. River charette community design workshop thing – called The River Through Downtown. It got popular, and we got as many folks in as we could, but we ran out of space and had to tell some folks that we didn’t have room for them. It was stressful, we probably had more folks participate than would have really been efficient, and a few excluded folks did resent that they weren’t at the table. So… all that to say that I know it’s a tricky balance between working quickly/efficiently, and including a large number of folks. What I am asking for – the tough work of being as inclusive as possible – isn’t easy.

I don’t know what a 100% fair process would have been to select community representatives… but I think that when L.A. City just picks just one group (LACBC) to represent all of L.A.’s bicyclists, it breeds resentment. I suspect that same would have happened had the city chosen C.I.C.L.E., Safe Streets Northridge, the Whirly Girls, BikeSide, L.A. Eco-Village, the Bicycle Kitchen or any other single group. Maybe there could have been an application process, a lottery, or something relatively clear.
A friend of mine who I work closely with was invited. He assumed I would be there… and was surprised when I said nobody invited me. It’s awkward and divisive.
Though the imperfect process resulted in great designs, who knows if things would have turned out better or worse under another process. The trick is that the designs are pretty innovative (for Los Angeles), so I expect that it’s going to take some bike activism to push to make them real. Unfortunately, now, when various bike activists who weren’t invited (such as me) hear “this is a ThinkBike design”, we’re going to have to try to put aside our first reactions (something like “I remember ThinkBike, I wasn’t invited”) and still push for implementation… because the designs are excellent, and definitely worthy of our support.
I think that ThinkBike could have, with a bit more openness and a bit more incusivity, still produced great designs and could have produced greater harmony between L.A. bicyclists and the city… so… ThinkBike was great, but was also a missed opportunity for something even greater.
A few other thoughts about the closing session, which I was invited to and I did attend and, overall enjoyed.
I was happy about the mayor’s remarks, which I did record most of really poorly on my cell phone (here and here.) I think Villaraigosa does understand that retooling our transportation priorities is long overdue in Los Angeles. I think Villaraigosa genuinely supports a somewhat stepped up pace of bike facility implementation (though this has been negated by LADOT’s focus on undermining the mayor’s pledges.) I think it’s great that the mayor has shown a great deal of leadership on and enthusiasm for CicLAvia (interested party alert: that’s where I work.)
I did wince at some language from some presenters, both city staff and non-staff:
  • Presenters called bike facilities called “amenities.” Freeways and car-parking lots are never called amenities. Bikeways and bike parking (and sidewalks and benches) are not amenities; they are necessary indispensable components of the city’s transportation system.
  • I never want to hear that L.A. street that are 40-80+feet-wide are “not wide enough for bike lanes” – as was stated a few times during ThinkBike presentations. I wrote about that here – see the italicized 5th paragraph.
  • Some folks are still calling bikeways in the city’s Bike Plan as “proposed.” It’s perhaps a semantic difference that only sticklers like me care about, but after the plan was approved, these are more more appropriately referred to as “approved” or “designated.”
  • One city presenter stated that ThinkBike was “a chance to work outside the constraints we have.” To me, this felt like a tacit admission that LADOT is  not committed to acting to make any of the ThinkBike designs an on-the-ground reality. I guess I should be grateful that this city staffer was able to get outside the constraints… and work to change those constraints.

Overall, despite these off-notes (which, in truth were few and far between), I left the closing session feeling good about Los Angeles making some progress toward someday becoming a city that respects safe bicycling. We’re not there yet… and it’s good that we’re looking to the Dutch for advice.

Let’s go build these wonderful designs!!

8 thoughts on “Thoughts on ThinkBike L.A.: 4 – Process

  1. “Then why did BikeSide, L.A. Weekly, CityWatch, and The Engaged Observer express concern over folks not being included in the process?”

    ….because AT wrote 3 out of those 4 articles?

  2. I heard the audio you recorded, boy do I wish you had the audio for the speakers of the Think Bike SF workshop, now there was some genuine, more specific commitment to more bike infrastructure. Villaraigosa sounded very vague and non-committal. Perhaps I need a second listen, but it wasn’t very inspiring the first time, maybe I had my expectations too high.

    Also, kinda related, I’d rather see advisory bike lanes, or LB style sharrows than mere sharrows.

    And yeah, AT did write or influence 3 of them.

  3. I think that a couple of days with Dutch designers would have been a really good experience for Alex Thompson (“AT”) and would have helped give him a more sophisticated understanding of bike facilities… and of the constraints that LADOT works under. (Same is true for me, for Alex Cordova who wrote the other article.) Not inviting bike community leaders detracts from the coverage of the event, and from the chances of these facilities getting implemented.

  4. Yeah, I’m not disputing the point that advocates might have benefited from a larger role. I just wanted to hazard a guess to your question about why four articles “expressed concern” about ThinkBikeLA.

    Or was that a rhetorical question?

  5. Pingback: Felony charges in SaMo road rage after all, and I nearly run down a seemingly semi-suicidal cyclist « BikingInLA

  6. Hi Joe!

    Engaged Observer here. Thanks for linking to my blog post:

    http://engagedobserver.blogspot.com/2011/09/today-think-bike-la-closing-session.html

    Quick question: Please cite where in my blog post I “express concern over folks not being included in the process”

    Are you referring to this?:

    “The public was not invited.”

    I thought I was writing an objective fact, not an expression of concern.

    Hi Chris Kidd! I’m the other Alex, AdC, not to be confused with AT. He’s taller than me.

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